The Smartest Person
My father died this past Christmas. Yesterday was his birthday. He would have been 89.
My Dad was a man of great intelligence and corny jokes. As an engineer of precision gauges, he had a PhD mind and a high school diploma.
He sang dumb words to old songs. “It had to be stew. Meat and beans wouldnt’ do.”
He was a true war hero; he fought in the Battle of The Bulge during World War II. And although he was proud of his service and loved the army, he hardly ever mentioned the two purple hearts that were stored in the attic.
He was good-looking, and I think in his younger days, he was well aware of it. (I look just like him. But that’s not bragging; handsomeness in a man doesn’t necessarily translate to female beauty.) He was perpetually cheerful. He woke up happy. I never heard him swear, and what is more amazing still–I never in my whole life heard him speak an unkind word about anyone.
On Father’s Day a few years ago, after two martinis, he said that having children was the best thing he ever did.
My mother was the advice-giver in the family. I wrote about her wonderful wisdom in “Beyond Clean Underwear-Advice From Mom.”
But my father gave me a few words of advice too. Very practical advice.
– “When you drive at night, keep your eyes on the shoulder of the road. You’ll stay in your lane, and you won’t be blinded by the oncoming cars.” Thirty-eight years later, I still drive this way. It works.
– “If you need a really big favor, go right to the top. People with only a little bit of power are often stingy with it. People with lots of power don’t have anything to prove. They can afford to be generous.” Just try this next time you need a week off to help a family member, or an after-hours delivery. It’s amazing.
Although I have a million memories, I have only one story about my father to share. I only need one, because it tells you everything you need to know about him, about my mother, about the home I was raised in, and the marriage I was privileged to have as an example.
About thirty years ago, I lived in an apartment with terrible and expensive laundry facilities. So even though I was no kid, I still drove to my parents’ house every other Sunday with a basket full of laundry.
My mother was a nurse, and she often worked on weekends. So that Sunday, I put my clothes in the washer, and sat down with my father to watch the game. (I am quite knowledgable about sports, because even as a little kid, I watched games with my Dad. I didn’t love sports; I loved sitting with him.)
Earlier that week, it had been my parents’ wedding anniversary. It may have been their thirty-fifth.
My Dad told me that they had gone out to dinner to celebrate. Still single at thirty, I had yet to find a man I could stand for very long, never mind marry, and thirty-five years seemed like forever.
“Dad,” I asked, “After all these years, do you still find things to talk about?”
He smiled, and his whole face lit up with pleasure.
“Oh yes,” he said enthusiastically. “There’s no one I would rather talk to than your mother. She’s the smartest person I know.”
Happy Birthday, Dad.